"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Friday, September 13, 2013

How Cleveland Charmed Me

Looking down through a glass case, I examined century-old rivets so badly gnarled they resembled pulled taffy. Yet these thick metal pins once held together the RMS Titanic. They were torn from the hull as the steel ship sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Now the rivets and other artifacts surrounded me in a dimly lit exhibition room. Inevitably, I felt haunted.

Later I rode up an escalator, walked into another room, and found myself a few centimeters from the above Skylab 3 space capsule. An authentic 1970s Apollo command module, it still bore char marks from a fiery plummet through Earth's atmosphere. Yet as the undamaged crew seats assured me, the capsule landed quite safely, proving itself air-, space-, and sea-worthy. It would have felt absolutely inspiring...but I was still thinking
of Titanic.

This past weekend, I traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to make my second visit to NASA Glenn Research Center. My first visit was entirely about exploring NASA's Midwest campus. This time I allotted an extra day to experience a bit of Cleveland. Priority one was a visit to the Great Lakes Science Center, which serves as NASA Glenn's official visitor center. Over five full hours, I saw many cool exhibits and attended two IMAX films. I am pleased to say this venue is excellent and well worth visiting. Give yourselves a full afternoon or more. Let the kids enjoy the many hands-on exhibits. Heck, enjoy them yourselves!

The above image is of a test version of the Mars Pathfinder rover's landing bag system. You can see more pictures here, including shots from my facility tour at NASA Glenn. On the strength of the science center's permanent collection, the citizens of Cuyahoga County can be proud. Still, I happened to visit while the Titanic Artifact Exhibition was in town. Seeing relics of that tragedy in close proximity to a triumphant piece of Apollo space history gave me pause. Shakespeare's auspicious line comes to mind: "What a piece of work is man!" Then again, that is a line from Hamlet.

Following my visit to the Great Lakes Science Center, I found a short walking trail with a great view of Lake Erie and the Cleveland skyline. The above picture was taken at the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve. As the sun went down, I drove into the nearby suburb of Lakewood and found a small diner. There I enjoyed a tasty double decker club sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries and a glass of ginger ale. The service was friendly. Moreover, the diverse and neighborly mix of employees and customers helped dissolve some of my preconceived notions about the city.

Several times during the day, a Randy Newman song played in my head: "Burn On." Equal parts charming and haunting, the song references the infamous Cuyahoga River fire of 1969. Like the Titanic exhibit I had visited earlier that day, Newman’s tune perfectly captures the dichotomy of achievement and folly that is human industry. One line swells with nostalgia: "Cleveland, city of light, city of magic..." Heretofore only acquainted with the city's maligned past--and overlooking the wry undertones of Newman's bass line and lyrics--I used to find that line odd. On September 6th, I finally came to embrace the multifaceted import of the song. Thank you for a great and thoughtful day, Cleveland. I hope to visit again.

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